Beginning at midnight on Aug. 4, LeBron James will be eligible to sign a two-year, $97.1 million extension with the Los Angeles Lakers. As it stands, LeBron has one year left on his deal — that year being his 20th NBA season, in which he'll turn 38.
Initially, LeBron and Klutch may have wanted to use that date as leverage to push the Lakers into significantly upgrading the roster, presumably via a Russell Westbrook trade. But with the league idling in an unexpected standstill in the wake of Kevin Durant's trade request — a saga that may linger into September — James can't force the Lakers to pull any triggers within the next week.
Instead, LeBron will have to decide whether to sign the extension on Aug. 4 and put his faith in the franchise (his love of Los Angeles is well-known and he's expressed a desire to retire with the Lakers, barring Bronny's 2024 draft prospects), or delay his decision (he has until June), thereby playing out the final season of his contract and maintaining some leverage — at the risk of causing a distraction.
Among other notable tidbits here, Stein posits that LeBron is "increasingly entrenched" in LA and neither he nor the Lakers feel the need to rush into signing an extension on Aug. 4, though it could become a distraction.
Also: Russ is well aware LeBron "badly wants" Kyrie. https://t.co/fLRUo5pQEh
— Michael Corvo (@michaelcorvoNBA) July 29, 2022
Or, technically, the two sides could entertain a trade. They wouldn't dare though…right?
LeBron doesn't have a no-trade clause. But, he could seek a fifth ring elsewhere in his twilight, if he sees no path to contention in Los Angeles. On the flip side, the Lakers could feel similarly pessimistic about their contending chances and spearhead a rebuild.
As unthinkable as trading LeBron seems, it's not completely insane. Put aside LeBron's unmatched starpower and sway, it kind of makes sense, in a purely business-of-basketball sense. Realistically, the Lakers' title window with LeBron may be shut, their cabinet of future assets is empty, and LeBron carries more trade value than any near 40-year-old in the history of sports.
If this hypothetical situation came to fruition, the two sides would surely collaborate on a league-altering blockbuster. Shipping LeBron somewhere he has no interest in going would severely hamper the Lakers' brand as a marquee home for superstars, dismantle their relationship with Rich Paul, and incense the fan base.
Now, before we go any further, a LeBron trade remains highly unlikely, as Marc Stein writes in his latest Lakers-centric Substack.
“There have been external calls for the Lakers to trade James … but there has been no indication that the Lakers themselves are contemplating the prospect of trading LeBron rather than extending him. I continue to say that I struggle mightily to envision a scenario where Jeanie Buss ever consents to the Lakers becoming the first of James’ three NBA employers to trade him away. … Trading away a player of James' stature … runs completely counter to the club's approach to building around the game's foremost stars and personalities that goes back to the days of Jack Kent Cooke, even before Buss' father, Dr. Jerry Buss, bought the Lakers in 1979.”
The Lakers' unwillingness, to this point, to include both their tradable first-round picks (2027, 2029) in deals for either Kyrie or Myles Turner and Buddy Hield — which would obviously appease James, particularly the former option — implies that the club is reluctant to go completely all-in on LeBron's remaining tenure. After the Westbrook debacle, Jeanie and Co. are looking ahead to the post-LeBron era.
Furthermore, while LeBron has never been traded, we know he and Rich Paul are open to changing teams if they eye a more optimal situation — both in terms of winning and narrative. As ESPN's Brian Windhorst reminded everybody, the Cleveland Cavaliers are positioned to contend and armed with a young core. What if both sides struck an accord that netted the Lakers future assets and allowed the Cavs to add LeBron while maintaining enough talent to contend?
Don't worry, Lakers fans: It's not gonna happen. Just something to consider.